One of my favorite series out on shelves right now is Dynamite’s The Lone Ranger. Like their latest Zorro series, when the Lone Ranger hit the shelves in 2006, I quietly had a resurgent interest in the character and began following the character a bit closer, not to mention hitting the “Classics” sections at the retail DVD stores. For some reason, I went all of 2007 without reviewing an issue of the Eisner nominated series. Recently, in one of my late night stints, I stumbled across classic Lone Ranger cartoons and episodes scattered about the internet and I can’t seem to get enough of them. After a bit of a lengthy delay, the latest issue from Dynamite featuring the Lone Ranger finally made its way into the comic store. While it is not a continuation of the main storyline, Lone Ranger and Tonto is a one-shot based in the same re-imagined universe that the series takes place.
While the main series is still dealing with the solidifying of the Lone Ranger as the warrior of the West, this issue deals more with a story that takes place maybe a year or two in the future. The Lone Ranger is more established in the territories and he’s recognized as a symbol of the people and a symbol of justice. I like the idea of running off from the main series a little bit because anyone who reads it should know what the Lone Ranger is and what he becomes. While the main series is still re-imagining his early days and making it more realistic, taking an “episodic” approach to his later adventures like what was seen in the TV show and heard on the radio, allows for a greater ability to tell good stories featuring such a classic character. This story is exactly that.
Since Dynamite took on the franchise, they have created a greater sense of realism, a greater sense of the violence and the injustice that plagued the Old West. It’s not glorified like John Wayne liked it; it’s more real like Clint Eastwood did it. I am a huge fan of the Old West, its one genre of storytelling that is and forever will be purely American, regardless of Italian influence. In fact, being a film and screenwriting major, my senior final in college was a full length screenplay that was the first installment of a Western trilogy. You don’t need to try and tell me the Western is going to make a comeback, because it will, and if 3:10 To Yuma and the TV movie Return to Lonesome Dove are any indication the Western could make a massive comeback just like the '80s. Before I get too far off on a tangent, I feel the need to say that I wholeheartedly believe that Clint Eastwood’s final Western Unforgiven is one of the finest movies of our time and served as the perfect bookend for the Western genre. However, with the over-exposure of CGI and other special effects, I truly believe the Western is on the rise once more. While it’s an adventure film, another “dormant” genre, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be shot in 35 mm film, not digital, that is another sign of the coming of the return of simpler and classic times.
However, for the Western to be successful, it needs the edge and raw realism that Eastwood brought in. In the world of comics, this is already happening with titles like DC’s Bat Lash, Jonah Hex and Loveless; Avatar’s Streets of Glory, and will no doubt be seen in Marvel’s upcoming Rawhide Kid as well as Dynamite’s upcoming Man with No Name. This is where The Lone Ranger succeeds as a true Western and as a story. Ever since Eastwood, people want the gritty realism and mythic nature of the west, not the over the top camp that John Wayne brought. One of the few prose writers who truly captures the true nature of the Old West is Ralph Cotton. His books are real, the characters are interesting and the situations are dire.
Brett Matthews has brought the shades of Eastwood into the Lone Ranger. The character needs to be the classic moral do-gooder but this is not the mid 1900s anymore, people have a greater sense of what the Old West was all about. This issue is a perfect example of why the series is so compelling and ultimately succeeds.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto are doing business with a local shop keep, after a night of fighting off bandits. The two vigilantes garner a great deal of respect for the work that they do and the townspeople show their appreciation. After leaving the town and venturing off, they spot a group of vultures. Tonto, who is a far greater character than his original incarnation, immediately notes that the vultures aren’t there for an animal. When the Lone Ranger and Tonto come across the slaughtered family and destroyed wagon, they as well as readers, immediately think that a group of bandits must have attacked the family. It fits the classic Western mold, take The Outlaw Josey Wales for example. There’s a scene where Josey rescues survivors from a wagon attack from bandits. Anyway, Tonto and the Ranger come across a survivor who at first tries to attack them, a young boy who doesn’t speak. They fear he’s seen horrible things and they take him to the town from which they came. The polite shopkeeper and his wife gladly take the boy in as a favor to the Ranger, and the Ranger and Tonto return to the wagon to bury the bodies.
One thing to keep in mind is that this story, and mostly all Westerns for that matter, take place in a time before Sigmund Freud and modern advancements in psychoanalysis. These stories also usually take place before 1888 when Jack the Ripper was went on his killing spree in London. Basically, the Western, particularly this story takes place before the idea of a serial killer or a “psycho” was even born. This is a key element to remember while reading this story, when the Ranger and Tonto return to bury the family at the wagon; they discover a letter from one of the victim’s sisters that outlines the portrait of a violent psychopath. That psychopath turns out to be the young boy that the Ranger and Tonto “rescued.” The suspense of this issue really picks up when the heroes, as well as the readers realize the boy is a complete nutcase and a cold-blooded killer.
Upon returning to the town, the shopkeeper and his wife have been murdered and the townspeople want justice. The Ranger takes it upon himself to find the boy and bring him in. When they find the boy, hiding amongst the rocks of a mountain, writers Brett Matthews and John Abrams really paint a decent portrait of a psychopath. However, they do it in a way that remains shrouded in mystery, kind of how the concept of a psychopath should be handled in the Old West. The boy’s motivation seems to be just pure evil, he’s killing for fun, there’s clearly something wrong with him as he goes out into the desert heat with nothing but a gun. His skin has been ripped apart from his journey, but yet he still does not speak. It’s a hell of a compelling scene when the Lone Ranger finally confronts the boy. The Ranger really wants to find some kind of good in the boy, he feels that there is innocence to be restored if the boy can find the right kind of help, but instead, the boy’s craving for violence only leads to his downfall, literally. What’s interesting is the fact that the Ranger tries to remain the moral compass, he wants to only imprison the boy, while Tonto seems to be more logical. “Some evils can only be stopped by their destruction.” There’s a basic point in what Tonto says. Whether you are for the death penalty or not, whatever brand of justice you support, sometimes the only way to stop evil is to snuff it out entirely.
The artwork is really the only major flaw of this issue. While the presence of John Cassaday’s art direction is definitely there with the bigger, more cinematic panels, Marcelo Pinto’s pencils are pretty bad. It’s unfortunate because his landscapes, backgrounds and colors are absolutely beautiful, but the line work, mostly in the characters isn’t the best. However, Pinto does have his moments, his close ups of character’s faces are actually pretty nice, but the rest of the work seems a bit too inconsistent and “messy” for an otherwise unique style.
This is a fine comic book. It’s an excellent story and could maybe work with any type of character but really shines with the Lone Ranger and Tonto as the protagonists. Given the history of the Western, the time period of this story and new, more realistic direction of the Lone Ranger, this title is most certainly worth the cover price, even if you aren’t a Lone Ranger fan, this is a pretty damn good story worth checking out. Not to mention my Pick of the Week.
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